KO WAI AU? Who am I?

  • Toiroa Williams Auckland University of Technology
  • Marcos Mortensen Steagall  (Translator)
Keywords: Aratika, Film making, Healing documentary, Karakia, Māori customs and protocol


This presentation accounts a journey of the researcher’s practice-led doctoral project, Tangohia mai te taura: Take This Rope. The study involves researching, directing and producing a documentary about historical grievances to exhume stories from a Māori filmmaker’s community that call into question colonial accounts of the 1866 execution of their ancestor Mokomoko, and the preceding murder of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1885. As a consequence of an accusation of murder, Mokomoko was arrested for the crime, imprisoned and hanged, all the while protesting his innocence. In retribution, our people had their coveted lands confiscated by the government, and they became the pariahs of multiple historical accounts. The practice-led thesis study asks how a Māori documentary maker from this iwi (tribe) might reach into the grief and injustice of such an event in culturally sensitive ways to tell the story of generational impact. Accordingly, the documentary Ko Wai Au, seeks to communicate an individual’s reconnection to, and understanding of, accumulated knowledge and experience, much of which is stored inside an indigenous, dispossessed whānau (family), whose whakapapa (genealogy) is interwoven with historical events and their implications. As a member of a generation that has been incrementally removed from history and embodied pain of my whanau, through the study I come seeking my past in an effort to understand and contribute something useful that supports my people’s aspirations and agency in attaining value, healing, and historical redress. This presentation advances a distinctive embodied methodological approach based on whenua (land) and whanau (family). In this approach, the researcher employs karakia (traditional incantations), walking the land, thinking, listening to waiata (traditional songs) and aratika (feeling a ‘right’ way). My position is one of humility and co-creation. I am aware that the rōpū kaihanga kiriata (film crew) with whom I work will be called into the trusting heart of my whānau and we must remain attentive to Māori protocols and sensitivities. Given the responsibility of working inside a Kaupapa Māori research paradigm, methodology and methods are shaped by kawa and tikanga (customary values and protocols). Here one moves beyond remote analysis and researches sensitively ‘with’ and ‘within’, a community, knowing that te ao Māori (the Māori world) is at the core of how one will discover, record, and create. 

Author Biography

Toiroa Williams, Auckland University of Technology

Toiroa Williams is a Māori documentary filmmaker with tribal links across Te Whakatōhea, Ngai Tai and Te Whānau a Apanui. He is passionate about telling Indigenous stories specific to his people which might aid in the teachings of their history to future generations. He completed a Masters’ degree in documentary film making in [2016], has been the recipient of numerous scholarships including [AUT INTERNZ at Sundance Institute] and he is currently completing a Ph.D. that considers Māori approaches to indigenous film making.